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When Seniors Visit a Cannabis Store, There Are Questions Aplenty

March 16, 2017
Barbara Krause makes a purchase at Vela Cannabis in Seattle, Washington on March 16, 2017. Krause was part of a group from Sound Vista Village, an assisted living facility in Gig Harbor, that visited Vela Cannabis. (David Ryder for Leafly)
On Thursday afternoon at Vela, the chic Seattle cannabis retailer, customer Maria Scott had a question for the nice young man doing all the talking about the terpenes.

“What do you have for Parkinson’s?” she asked.

“What do you have for Parkinson's?” one customer asked.

Scott’s friend, whose walker clanged against Scott’s own, chimed in. “What about arthritis?” she demanded.

Those were some of the many questions that came up during a first trip to the cannabis store for Scott and about a dozen fellow senior citizens from the Sound Vista Village assisted living center in Gig Harbor, Washington.

A visitor from Sound Vista Village holds a cannabis gel product while making a purchase at Vela Cannabis in Seattle. (David Ryder for Leafly)

The outing, part of the center’s Village Concepts University program, aimed to introduce residents to the brave new world of legal cannabis. “We want [our residents] to stay on top of current events, pop culture, what’s going on in the world,” explained Tracy Willis, head of business development for Village Concepts.

So the seniors decamped at Vela’s sleekly designed storefront on First Avenue South, between Safeco Field and the global headquarters of Starbucks.

For Vela staff members, it was a chance to get to know some great potential customers: seniors 65 and older. A recent study in the journal Addiction found that overall cannabis use by baby boomers increased 58% from 2006 to 2013. Researchers found that cannabis use among boomers peaked between ages 50 to 64. Adults 65 and older had a significantly lower prevalence of cannabis use than those in the younger group, but consumption by those in that older age cohort increased by 250% during that same time period. So adults in late middle age tended to consume more cannabis than those of retirement age–but that seems to be quickly changing.


Cannabis and Arthritis

Lemon Cheese Cake? She’s In.

Ilene Cohn smells a pipette containing terpenes and essential oils at Vela Cannabis in Seattle, Washington on March 16, 2017. Cohn was part of a group from Sound Vista Village, an assisted living facility in Gig Harbor, that visited Vela Cannabis. (David Ryder for Leafly)

After a box lunch of sandwiches, chips, grapes and cookies, Vela general manager Erin Green told the group “I know cannabis can be intimidating, so we’re very honored that you chose to be here with us.” She briefed the seniors on the short history of legalization in Washington state, and drew a number of wide-eyed “wows” at the $400 million in cannabis tax revenue brought in since 2014.

John Ulrey, head grower for Field Day, a licensed cannabis grower that shares building space with Vela, talked them through the indica-sativa split and plant growth stages. Heads nodded among the seniors when he mentioned nutrients and flowering (there may have been some ardent gardeners in the group).

Strains and strain names seemed to puzzle a few of the luncheon guests. One woman offered a stern eyebrow raise at the name Green Crack. Another was surprised to hear that there was a product called Lemon Cheese Cake. “You have something that’s lemon cheese cake?” she wondered aloud.


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Down the hall, where the producer/processor company Suncliff houses its extraction lab, lab director Anthony Dalton passed around tubes containing different terpenes. (Suncliff is not affiliated with Vela, but its lab is housed in the same building.) Myrcene, linalool, limonene, the seniors sniffed them all. “Interesting,” Maria Scott said, handing a tube of limonene to a friend. “That is not so bad.”

Ilene Cohn took a whiff of New York Diesel terpenes. “They smell good,” she said, with her face registering surprise.

Topicals Were Very Popular

Ilene Cohn, left, shops with assistance from Elena Mishko, right, an employee at Vela Cannabis in Seattle. (David Ryder for Leafly)

As the visiting seniors were all over the age of 21, they were free to shop after their tour. “Before we set you loose on your shopping spree,” Vela general manager Erin Green told them, they’d probably want to know “what the heck these things are.”

“Most of you probably won't get to dabbing.”
Vela staff member, to visiting seniors

After a brief lesson on flower, tinctures, vape pens, Vela staff member Elena Mishko touched briefly on dabbing. “Dabbing is a really high level of vaporizing,” she said. “Most of you probably won’t get to that.”

Also: “If anyone’s sharing a cannabis-infused cookie with you, you need to take small bites.” Sound advice for everyone, that.

Then it was on to the sales floor. Scott and Cohn made a beeline for the topicals section. Others lingered over the selection of high-CBD products. As she perused the selection of balms and creams, Scott had a final question. “What’s the best one?” she asked. Spoken like a discerning consumer.

Bruce Barcott and Gage Peake's Bio Image

Bruce Barcott and Gage Peake

Leafly Deputy Editor Bruce Barcott is a Guggenheim Fellow and the author of Weed the People: The Future of Legal Marijuana in America. Gage Peake is a Leafly staff writer and a recent journalism graduate of the University of Nebraska.

View Bruce Barcott and Gage Peake's articles

  • And none of these questions should be answered by sales-driven, uneducated, unlicensed dispensary folk.

    • lovingc

      I would imagine a Dr. would be cost prohibitive for a dispensary.

      • I suppose although if they’re doing well it might be an interesting idea. My feeling is that patients should have a Cannabis doctor who knows this stuff and is available to help them, just like any other medication. At least, that’s how I run my practice.

        • lovingc

          It would be better to have a Dr. on staff but I don’t have any experience with a medical dispensary. I imagine most patients have already had a strain recommended and a treatment plan before going to a dispensary.

        • bullish_11

          Of course, you need to have a Cannabis doctor, so that you can pay them out of your own pocket, because we all know your insurance isn’t going to donate one red cent to help you…

    • Grassman

      It’d be really great if the intimate knowledge on the medical science of cannabis, its different types/terpenes/effects and more was publically available for anyone looking to study it, because the dispensary folk don’t seem to be stopping their practice any time soon. I for one would love to study as much as possible about it.

    • Bruce Barcott

      Hi Jordan: Lab director Anthony Dalton, who was asked those questions in the lead paragraph, took great care to explain that he could not, by state rules, answer direct medical questions like “What will help with Parkinson’s?” I know your comment speaks to a more universal concern about where patients are getting answers, but I want to be clear that Dalton and staff at Vela are and were very cognizant of what they could and could not answer.

      • I appreciate your comment. And you’re right that my concerns go far beyond this dispensary. However, the mere fact that these senior were asking about Parkinson’s or arthritis shows that they haven’t seen a physician nor gotten a proper treatment plan. This sort of Cannabis tourism for seniors is medically inappropriate as it leads sick and vulnerable patients to use Cannabis without educated guidance (MD) nor reference to their particular illness. Further dispensaries, whether intentionally or not, are benefitting financially from the eagerness, ignorance, and vulnerability of patients. The only appropriate answer from any dispensary staff is “I can’t address that. You should talk to your doctor and come back so we can get you what s/he recommends for you.”

        • mark

          Okay, so….perhaps they seniors were looking at alternative options for pain. I make topical salve with Indica cannabis which kicks butt on sore muscles, and painful joints.

        • Che

          My primary care doctor knows nothing about medical cannabis. I had to research it on my own. Specialists that I’ve seen looked down their noses at me when I told them I used it for pain relief. I’ve been seeing doctors for the last three years and “talking to my doctor” has gotten me absolutely no where, other than racking up huge medical bills for tests that weren’t at all helpful, which certainly “financially benefited” someone. In fact, treatments and drugs that my doctor recommended actually made things worse and the drugs I was given caused all kinds of bad side effects, none of which I experience with cannabis. Do you really think the people asking about Parkinson’s or arthritis haven’t seen a doctor or have a treatment plan? I know plenty of people like this who have seen a doctor and do have a treatment plan, but guess what…they aren’t seeing results. They still feel horrible. I’d bet that is the experience of these women. I think doctors ought to examine their own biases and financial motivations, as well as those of pharmaceutical companies. Finally, I’ve never had a medically unlicensed budtender anywhere ever give me any medical advice.

          • Sorry you have a bad/ignorant doc. Find a better one. Certainly your experience isn’t a basis for setting policy and lack of guidance isn’t a reason for bad guidance from uneducated/qualified people. The idea that Cannabis medicine is/should be the domain of PCPs is impractical. They have 15 minutes to discuss everything from head to toe. As a Cannabis specialist, I spend an hour with each new patient talking solely about their illness(es) and Cannabis. Go find a Cannabis specialist. The Society of Cannabis Clinicians maintains lists. As for bud tenders not giving medical advice, I’ve had patients sold all manner of Cannabis products I didn’t recommend to them, have had several harmed (though not lethally, we all know) and even had a patient report that they were told “oh, don’t listen to your doctor, I’ll tell you what you need.” Surely the financial incentives for dispensaries to sell greater amounts and more types of products presents a huge problem for patients, particularly those who resemble the folks in this article.

          • Che

            I’ve attended a presentation by Vela. They didn’t guide anyone, they didn’t give any medical advice other than to TALK TO YOUR DOCTOR. You are making inaccurate assumptions about them. And that harming stuff? I don’t even want to go into all the irreversible harm (including death) that members of my family and I have experienced from prescription drugs by doctors who think they know what they’re doing.

          • bullish_11

            He is not the only one, almost all of us have this issue. I have to use the VA and Tricare and the choice of MD’s I get is despicable, and for most of my painful life I have been given this or that opiate, and my system can’t take them. I am finally going to give MMJ a try, and as Che noted, most doctors I have talked to would look down on me as though the mention of MMJ is the worst thing in the world you can do. I have been researching this for almost a year and believe I know what I need to help myself, and who knows if these seniors did the same? It doesn’t tell us in the article if they did anything, I would hope so, everyone should before they commit to using this as medicine, as this isn’t the same stuff we smoked in the 70’s and 80’s…

        • Rainey

          My physician is supportive of cannabis legalization, but readily admits he knows “virtually nothing” about available strains, potency and/or delivery mechanisms (vape, joint, pipe, edibles, etc.). The questions about Parkinson’s and arthritis did not mention or imply that the women hadn’t “seen a physician nor gotten a proper treatment plan.” They simply *asked* about using cannabis to treat those afflictions.
          You assume that older patients who’ve never visited a cannabis dispensary are ignorant and vulnerable. Some of them may be. Others may be well-read on the topic and fully informed of the effectiveness of cannabis. But opportunities to visit these businesses are rare for people who live in less-enlightened states where cannabis remains illegal. An unfamiliarity with strains, snacks and paraphernalia can lead to what are basic questions.
          You sound sincere, but perhaps a little defensive. Individuals with limited medical training certainly can give advice that’s “medically inappropriate”, but so too can licensed physicians when prescribing drugs that prove deleterious to the patient’s health. A cannabis dispensary is just one more option for people caring for their health.

    • cristala

      while I agree that most budtenders and staff are untrained I dispute that doctors are miraculously educated on plant medicines and suddenly the self-appointed authority, most doctors are relatively clueless about cannabis and prefer their “go to” pharma drugs. Probably 75% of them still deny cannabis even IS medicine, way behind the curve ball..herbal practitioners, massage therapists, acupuncturists and remedy makers who have been working with cannabis for decades hold more knowledge than doctors by a long shot. Experienced holistic practitioners are who dispensaries must be bringing in for their patients. Doctors are stuck in the western paradigm trying to squeeze cannabis understanding into that same old box that gave us opiates and other bad patent drugs. Recently on a CBD study, researchers broke the legs of rats to inject the bones with CBD! We do not need to torture animals to study this plant..same ole same ole from scientists just trying to take over as experts because there is so much money to be made.

      • I agree that most doctors don’t know much about the plant. Nor should they. They should know enough to know when it might be helpful, and then refer to a specialist. There’s too much to know about medicine for anyone to know an do it all. On the other hand, there’s far more to knowing Medicine than just knowing about a plant. We are not a plant, we are human, and very complex. Further the practitioners that you put forward as having knowledge of the plant have no knowledge of human physiology. As for the study you mention, it was whole flower extract, not CBD, and neither of us need like the way science is done to understand that it is necessary. Last, if it were likely to be all that profitable, big pharma would be all over it. I’m certainly not making bank. I do this for the patients.

        • cristala

          patients should be the priority thank you for your work. Practitioners actually do know quite a bit about physiology in fact probably have more overall knowledge than some doctors depending on the skill set. I’ve met some amazingly dumb doctors in my day lol. Not only are licensed therapists trained in the human anatomy but traditional medicine has a strong focus on matching plants with particular organs and illnesses. Certainly just because someone is a doctor doesn’t automatically equate to good health care, we see this everyday all around us..our bodies do not recognize synthetic drugs the way they do plant remedies. anyway peace to you 🙂

  • Highway 69

    “Do you offer a senior discount?”

    • Sniglet66

      Hey now, one of the second senior discounts I ever got was at a SEA weed store. There’s gotta be some advantage to making it this far!

      • Highway 69

        Lol! I’m a senior too! I agree, I think we should get some bennies!
        I was diggin the story, and wondered what I would say if I were with them!

        • Sniglet66

          There is a rec shop on the Squaxin reservation – right across the street from a casino/resort. That place is ripe for this kind of thing – the van of seniors could pull up to the shop: “Ya got one hour then we leave, else you have to walk to the casino across the street”.

  • cinderabi

    ohboyohboyohboy! I will be in my favorite “used-to-be” hometown SEATTLE WA next week and I am sooooo looking forward to visiting a few emporiums while in town. I live in a very repressive state in the mid-Atlantic where this fascinating botanical culture does not exist. In order to at least play in the game all info must come from the internet. This site is especially helpful to me because it is diverse in the info it delivers. I look forward every day to what might be the topic of discussion. Don’t much care for the downer articles about raids, and the mere mention of jeff sessions (who needs some lessons but will most likely never trade his jug o’ “shine” for a piece of delicious cannabanana bread…) just creeps me out… but I digress. What I want to convey is that it will really be nice to eat some medables that have been professionally created. What comes out of my kitchen is pretty nice and successfully takes the edge right off of my tendencies towards depression and anxiety, but up until now I have had nothing to compare my cannacookies and breads to. Soooooooooooo look for a medium sized seventy-one year old woman gleefully wandering around in your shops next week, Seattle entrepeneurs of cannabis concoctions. I will be the one wearing a big happy grin and ready to do business and learn some technique. I am preparing to leave this mid-Atlantic state late next year and return to Washington State, where I can shop freely for the only medication I choose to use to kick the crap out of depression and anxiety and make my head a happier place in which to create positive and sometimes humorous thoughts. See you at the emporium. WHOO HOO!